ʻOhana Nui and the Ties That Bind

Hawaiian proverb ‘Ōlelo No‘eau # 2178  reads, Mōhala i ka wai ka maka o ka pua, which translates to “Unfolded by the water are the faces of flowers. Flowers thrive where there is water, as thriving people are found where living conditions are good.”  Much like the Kalo Plant, how are we living a life of purpose, providing living conditions in which we can all thrive, and creating a culture where generations understand the significance of spiritual and physical well-being for all? Think about it…

The interconnectedness of the Kalo Plant and ʻohana are essential to the foundation and ties that bind us as a community and people. From Keiki to Kupuna, our survival weighs heavily upon our sense of place, belonging, and ability to support each other through every meaningful phase of life.  The significance of ʻohana has perpetuated throughout generations, within organizational missions, political campaigns, movies, and so much more. For example, a message so vividly conveyed by characters in the movie “Lilo and Stich” reminds us that ʻohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” However, what is its true essence and connection to our islands culture and people?

An excerpt from House Bill 1663, designating Kalo as the Official State Plant reads “Kalo intrinsically embodies the interdependency of the past, the present, and the future, the essence of procreations and generations, as the foundation of sustainable practice.  Kalo expresses the spiritual and physical well-being of not only the kanaka maoli and their heritage, but also symbolizes the environmental, social, and cultural values important to the state.”  On Hawaii’s state seal, 8 Kalo leaves below the shield represent both the health of the land and the health of the state.  Leaves of the Kalo plant are also prominently established on the crown of King Kalākaua. It is coveted as sacred and culturally significant to the Kanaka Maoli as a stable source of sustenance for generations and a symbol of the life cycle of ʻohana.

“This place is a home away from home” said Rosalina Castelo an attendee of the Kauai Adult Day Health Center.  “It feels like one big ʻohana” shared Violita Ballesteros, sister of Rosalina and an attendee of the center.  Time spent together at the Kauai Adult Day Center has been a life-changing experience for Rosalina and Violita who says they get to see each other more often than they ever did before.  “It’s comforting knowing that I can converse with my sister every day while interacting amongst friends.”  The sisters often reminisce over childhood memories while at the center.  “I remember us walking barefoot near the train tracks in Lihue.  There were mounds of dirt near the mill, we’d dig through the mud presses for mushrooms and take it home to eat.”  The ability to socialize and engage in activities together has brought comfort and a renewed sense of belonging for the sisters.  “Our community should make sure that every Kupuna, rich or poor, has a place to be and feel special.  It’s like a family here,” said Rosalina.

How do you define ʻohana?  Perhaps it’s a mentor, a sports team or organization, group of friends, traditional family, partner in life, caregiver, or place where kūpuna can gather.  Within our core exudes a fundamental need to belong, find our purpose, establish a safe-haven, and feel like an integral part of something meaningful where we are truly loved. No matter what makes your heart sing or your spirit’s soar, the kuleana falls upon all of us to take care of each other.